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Reviewed by:
  • A History of Finland by Henrik Meinander
  • George C. Schoolfield
Henrik Meinander . A History of Finland. Trans. Tom Geddes. New York: Columbia UP, 2011. Pp. 227.

Meinander's manual has been taken over by Columbia from its British publisher, Hurst. The Swedish text was published in 2007 and in paperback in 2010. Lamentably, the rich illustrations of the 2007 edition have been much reduced, and the striking ornamental chapter-headings have all disappeared. The author has been handsomely served by his experienced translator, thanked in the two paragraphs added to the introduction. Going through the compact but gracefully written texts, Swedish against English, one stumbles on only a handful of causes for harmless merriment or passing confusion. Young Gustav Vasa "turned out to be anything but a political gadfly" (20), but, in the original, "visade sig vara allt annat än en politisk dagslända, "Mayfly," ruling the Kingdom of Sweden from 1523 to 1560. The translation says that Charles XII "fell in battle" (53) for "stupade," a rendering giving a slightly askew cast to those murky events in the forward trench at Fredrikshald, "Vårt land / Mamme" (83) was "set to music by the German composer who was working in Finland" ("den i Finland verksamma tonsättaren"), sounding as though Pacius had just dropped in for a gig. (He came in 1834 and never left.)

The shock troops of the Swedish army during the Thirty Years' War, the "hakkaapeliitat" or "hakkapeliter," are described (37) as "physically fit and well-motivated" ("hade god fysik och motivering"), which might give the innocent reader an image of pushups and pep-talks. By the way, what was their motivation? Plunder and rape? Jacobus Balde, in Carmina I:38, "To the Eagle of the Empire," punned on their appellation: "pelle Finlandos, age, pelle corvos" [drive away, go on, drive away the Finnish ravens]. Meinander adds that their war-cry, "Hakkaa päälle" (loosely, "Cut them down") eventually became synonymous with Finnish fighting spirit in general, as anyone who has endured a Finnish sports event will attest. Meinander is much devoted to fitness. It comes as no surprise that Paavo Nurmi, the Flying Finn, had an "athletic physique and an economical running style" and that President Urho Kekkonen was "tall and fit." Meinander is the co-editor, with J.A. Mangan, of The Nordic World: Sport in Society (1998).

In the coda of his introduction, Meinander records that he has "endeavored to compile a list of relevant English-language literature," having just complained that there is all too little of it. In his bibliography, one finds translations of works by Finnish scholars and by Britons, e.g., the estimable David Kirby and J.E.O. Screen, but no American makes the cut. He should surely have included Jason Lavery's The History of Finland (2006), the bibliography of which is much more extensive and helpfully divided [End Page 520] by topics, and Lavery's cultural range is greater than Meinander's, who, on the other hand, pays much heed to the economic and societal side.

Meinander has shown his skill at conjuring up a narrow time-slot in the exciting Finland 1944: samhälle, känslolandskap (2009; Finland 1944: Society, Emotional Landscape). In A History of Finland, he dazzles by the nimbleness with which he speeds his narrative along, arriving unwinded at the finish-line. Chapter 9, "Finland and Europe," takes up the question—all too little discussed today, in contrast to not-so-long-ago—of the Republic's role in the European community. He has already arrived at a climax in a tribute (163 ff.) to Kekkonen, a nuanced account of the long-termed president's shepherding of his country through the perils of the Cold War. Kekkonen had "a distinctive voice and could express himself intelligently," gifts made for television.

The surviving illustrations, twenty-five of them, include "Bear-Hunting," "Tar-Burning," "The Paper Industry," and "Kekkonen and Krushchev," where the Russian partner resembles one of the Seven Dwarfs alongside the stalwart UK. Of course, Lasse Wirén dashes to the 5,000 meter gold at Munich in 1972. There are no reproductions of Sibelius scores or paintings from the Golden...


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